Nutrition science can be confusing, but there’s pretty much no doubt about soda. It’d be tough to find any nutritionist who’d would argue that soda has ample health benefits.
But what about diet soda? If the problem with soda is all those heaps of sugar, shouldn’t diet soda—which doesn’t have sugar and therefore fewer calories—be a healthier choice?
According to Sharon Richter, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City, diet sodas may be free of refined white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, but they’re still packed with other chemicals. Most diet sodas have some type of artificial color or flavor added. Phosphorus—found in diet soda as well as regular soda—is used to help flavor colas. This element is essential for the body, but the large amounts in soda can cause your body to leach calcium from the bones. For this reason, drinking cola regularly could affect your odds of developing problems like osteoporosis.
And the research on whether diet soda actually helps you lose weight is mixed. Some research suggests artificial sweeteners found in diet soda may affect your body’s ability to gauge how many calories you’ve consumed. “The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more,” according to the Harvard School of Public Health. “By providing a sweet taste without any calories, however, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories.”
Instead of drinking diet soda, the healthiest thing you can do is switch to water—but you already know that. Bored with plain H20? For a flavorful and bubbly drink, try flavoring plain seltzer with a splash of fruit or fruit juice. You can keep things exciting with exotic juices like passion fruit or lychee, or you can venture beyond fruits and try seltzer with lime and fresh mint—kinda like a virgin mojito.
If you’re really having trouble giving up soda for good, Richter recommends choosing the regular soda (the one with real sugar), but sticking to a smaller serving size.